by John-Paul Pryor

In Focus is the title given to an ambitious project that sees over forty international artists exhibit works in London this summer that relate directly to the Middle East. Hailing from countries such as Iraq, Syria and Iran many of these artists throw personal perspectives on the myriad of issues surrounding that region of the world that are all too often overshadowed by political manipulation.

The whole shebang kicked off at the Tate Modern on May 4th with a performance entitled 'Make Me Stop Smoking' from the celebrated Lebanese artist and playwright Rabih Mroué who took the audience with him on a trip into his inner life via a video montage of collected documentation that he referred to as his 'personal archive'; an evocative collection of images and ideas that referenced the history of the Lebanese civil war and the wider Middle East from a deeply personal perspective.

RABIH MROUÉ @ Tate Modern 4th May 2007
photo by Rachel Wilberforce

The intimate evening challenged notions of perception and memory with the implicit suggestion being that we are perhaps all far more prone to acceptance of an unconscious bias in our perspective than we might like to think, often simply as a by-product of the genetic inadequacies of our own mental apparatus.

In 'Make me Stop Smoking' what remained unseen was equally as important as that which was seen, when for instance we came to footage of massacres, that Mroué pre-empted as an example of how an image can burn itself into your consciousness, it was his decision not to show us the gruesome scenes that he had described that was, perhaps, even more affecting than the horror itself would have been. In this way he personalized the experience he himself had had as a spectator, leaving the audience with the distinct feeling that they were being spared something truly excruciating that the artist would have to live with forever.

Ultimately Mroué's overarching suggestion in this piece was that the only true democracy available to humanity must eventually come about through the free distribution of all images, information and media to each and every individual who seeks them, without political or religious censor.

In Focus comes to the Dazed Gallery on June 7th.